9 November 2004
That night in Berlin
It almost slipped my mind, and it shouldn't have: it was fifteen years ago that the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.
In November 1989, I was running a FidoNet echo and reading a lot of others. And a chap named Wolfram Sperber dropped into INTERUSER, and we dropped everything, because he was there, man. I saved his story, and it's followed me through half a dozen computers since then, which is a neat trick considering I was running a Commodore 128 at the time.
Sperber's story follows the jump; thanks to Baldilocks for the memory jolt.
After all these tremendous news from here and Germany at all, I feel the need to send a report to you all from Schoeneberg in West-Berlin about the "first night" from Nov. 9th to 10th.
At noon time on Sunday I'm sitting at my keyboard, listening to TV-Transmission of Beethoven's 7th sinfony from the Berlin philharmonics: a special free concert to our guests from the GDR... (Yesterday more than half a million has been in this part of the City where some 2 million people are living. It was reported that more than 4.3 millions of visa were given until now, i.e. for more than one fourth of the population of a state).-
You all get informed very quickly by your own mass media, and I don't want to duplicate lots of news...
What I want to describe, are my own adventures in that first night:
In the last weeks I had begun to look regularly at the GDR-Television: It had changed from the most uninteresting channels to the most exciting ones, and so I used to see them every day. - Transmissions of international press conferences had shown us the latest news from the official source directly... On last Thursday about 7 p.m. at the end of one of those transmissions I heard the longwinded formulated message, which was quotated in the West-TV-News some 20 minutes later (without special comment).
Without boasting, I can state to have recognized the real meaning of this complicated sentences at once... Some moments later I formulated the sentence "That means, the wall has fallen down just now!" This thought made me very excited. At once I began to phone friends, relatives, family in Berlin and West Germany. All reacted unbelieving to the unbelievable, some assuming I would tease them or something like that. So I had to substantiate the consequences of the message.- I dialed again. My conviction grew from one moment to the next and I wrote down some short messages to Fido and another Berlin Mailbox...
Interesting for myself now! The first thought and feeling I've got was NOT one of joy, but one of worry: Now the real chaos would arise here. I feared that all the events of the last weeks and months could have been preliminaries only, and just the practical aspects of the run from East to West would plunge us into huge problems.
So it took me some time not to worry, and better be happy :-)
(Till this Sunday it's the time of euphoria on the streets. Next week we have to deal with some problems...)
The first live reports from some checkpoints were shown. At this time, about 10 to 11 p.m. in the night, the first people from West Berlin arrived there, awaiting things or people to come. About midnight I decided to take my car. One moment I asked myself if I should quit it because of pure sensation seeking(?), but then I thought of the historical dimension and started.
There is a big boulevard in West-East-Direction leading through the Brandenburg Gate: In East Berlin it's called "Unter den Linden" (a historical boulevard of old Berlin), in West Berlin it's called "Street of June the 17th" (remembering those days of the year of 1953, when the revolt in the GDR was put down). When I arrived after 2 km at "Big Star" (traffic circle) this 8-track-Autobahn in the middle of the City already was overcrowded with cars and pedestrians, police cars with red lights (resp. "blue lights" here).
[Frenetic applause for Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin philharmonics just now on TV!]
Where to get a parking place now? I'd really luck to get one just in the forest, where it was forbidden, of course. ("Tiergarten" is our "Central Park")
[TV reports that not less than one million people are awaited from the other side today!!]
Walking, hurrying with hundreds of people I arrived at Brandenburg Gate after some 800 meters. There is no checkpoint but this is the most symbolic place of the wall. The NBC-Team already had built a small platform, and on their vans I read "Miet mich mal..." / "Just hire me...".
The American correspondent (Tom Broker ?) was rehearsing his part, being told new details every minute. Time for the the main news at home. Somebody grinned "These Americans, must have their scenery here, of course,..." Well, several other TV-Teams were working, too.
[Just now a picture from Brandenburg Gate: "Meet the press"]
The first four or five people had climbed upon the Berlin wall dancing in a storm of applause, and under the beams of two water-cannons from the other side (where we could not look).
The visitors' platforms, of course, were overcrowded. When I could get a short look from there over the wall, I saw some dozens of people in front of the gate coming to blows with the "Vopos". After a short time the frontier guards moved back to form a chain, rectangular to the wall, closing the areas on the left and right side.
More and more people climbed up, some had pick-hammers and begun to thump at the wall. I put a stone as a souvenir... (it's rather curious: It looks just nice, anyhow - this splinter and symbol of suppression and sorrow from that building surrounding us over a distance of 45 km, pop-art-painted over and over since years).
Some hundreds of Western people pushed onto this wall, one helping the other to climb up there.
I did it, too. There were a lot of discussions between all the people, one strange to the other. At the other side we looked at about hundred of people, which were dancing in front and under the Gate. It took me some time to understand that these were not East Germans but ours. The frontier soldiers had given up.
I talked with another man, and we decided to try it, too: We jumped down to the East, walked slowly through this Gate, the first time in our life and felt a little bit weired about all that...taking the last pictures of the film.
We could not recognize, whether the street was closed after about hundred meters and slowly approached: Small groups (from the West) in hotheaded discussions with very young guards. (I saw the strained and some helpless expression in one's eyes: "So what do you want to hear from him just now?!")
The nearly full moon in that clear and cold November night over us, we slowly began a walk on this boulevard "Unter den Linden", passing the Humboldt University, looking at shop windows ("Meissener Porcellaine") in the other part of this world in our own town, drinking champagne from the bottles of others. We felt that all was possible in this night. There were no excesses.
All Restaurants were closed at this after-midnight-time (normally). More and more pedestrians walked in both directions. We noticed that most of them were West Berliners. The first of them now arrived from the left side, from Friedrichstrasse (which is crossing there and leading to Checkpoint Charlie). - Then East Berliners, but much less, joined us, hesitating, it seemed to me; cars passed, hooting already. At the subway-/suburban line station there is a checkpoint. One of the many paradoxons of Berlin: Some lines from West and East are crossing there in the middle of East Berlin, but separated from each other. (Normally you are passing this station as West Berliner in transit without control and you are going underneath through the area of East Berlin. Big Walls are separating platforms for the two streams of traffic of East and West.)
We'd got the idea to call by phone to the West there. Of course, we had no GDR-coins. Three or four times we asked some people in the hall for changing some money, but we failed - all West Berliners! When I asked a couple the woman gave me coins, and she did not understand at all when I said: "Do you know already, what happened? We are from the West and just have climbed over the wall at the Brandenburg Gate. The frontier is open! Hundreds are here" The man asked something I've forgotten. Then I told it to her again. Only just she got it: She turned, silent and began to cry, quiet... Next moment they were away.
It was not possible to make a call! Phone boxes were occupied by West Berliners, nobody knew the "dial prefix" to the West. Then the lines were just blocked...
On our way between 2 and 3 a.m. we walked some kilometers to the North were more and more people filled the streets, laughing, singing, taking pictures and some videoing. - It seemed more and more like a festival, but not really euphoric or carnival-like at this hour, rather in some disciplined manner.
How to return? We decided to go to checkpoint Invalidenstrasse, from where the first life news via TV had arrived me in the evening. Gradually the street filled like in the rush hours on Saturday afternoon.- A lot of small talks into all directions.
Hard to say, whether more people from the West came from there or people from the East went with us now. Then two young families with small children passed in a hurry, everbody with a bag or suitcase in each hand. I asked them "You want to leave?" The short and some breathless answer was "We don't trust to changes, we want to go just now!"...
At the frontier (crowds of people and cars from both sides) I asked a customs officer: "How do you feel at this moment?" Laconically he answered: "Quite well, but more I'd prefer to lie in my bed!"
Then we stood a little bit at the first car, which was waiting for the permission to pass: We talked with two young men sitting in their Russian "Lada". The driver, a 23-year-old, said repeatedly: "I can't believe it. We just heard it and decided to try it at once. I'm feeling stabbing pain in the chest. It is nearly too much for us!"
They intended to visit aquaintances anywhere in West Berlin, where they never had been before, and asked for the way. We entered their car, an officer friendly said: "Wait some minutes, we are doing Entry now, I'll give you a sign". - Our hosts in the car stayed worrying and doubtful. After some ten minutes we passed the frontier.
So it happened, that I left in this night about 3.15 a.m., as a Pseudo-"East-German" in a Russian car taking the applause and cheering from hundreds of West Berliners we passed in a narrow lane step by step! :-))
First we went to Brandenburg Gate again: They wanted to stand there (at the other side) and have a look from there. It sounds curious, but it's true: their names were (nearly) ours: Ben-Karsten the one, Wolf the other.
What remains to report is: We spend the next hours of that night in the centre on and around "Kudamm"-Avenue, Memorial Church and so on.
There, at 4 and 5 a.m. in the morning, streetlife looked like at 9 or 10 p.m. in the past hot summer nights. Kudamm was closed for cars, except the "Trabbies" and "Wartburgs" (East German cars); again we joked about our "privilege".
Hard to get something to drink or eat, only some bars were opened. The Turkish "Kebab"-Station was selled out (no more bread available). All these people did what they are used to do (as they said): Standing patiently in a queue...
About 5.45 a.m. we leaved: Karsten for a short sleep before work, I (happy to sleep long, because of no duty for working the next morning), and our guests made their way for a visit anywhere in town with my road-map as a little help.
From the moment, we stood just on the top of the wall, we felt the historical meaning of this extraordinary night, and all the following what happened afterwards and what will happen in future let me feel the urge to write down this saga to spread it over the world.
It's a long and only a very personal story in the flood of news and reports you can get in these days. I wanted to use Fido-Computer-Netfor something more important (to me) than all the common Net-Messages of everyday..
What I hope now is:
One word at the end to future developments: The question of Re-Unification of Germany for me and (I think) the majority of people in West and (that seems sure) in East is no topic! Instead, unification of Europe should be the aim!
Not only because of fears and reservations of our neighbours in East and West (which, I think, are understandable, but not really justified). Just because of the future era, where national states are getting more and more unimportant.
In this sense we all applauded yesterday evening at Brandenburg Gate (where I was once again under thousands of people): A banner of Europe was fixed at the wall and on a street-lamp in front of the the chain of GDR-soldiers: They now stand again on top to prevent people from climbing up. "Well, we must have order!" (telling you that from "Prussia" :-)
But I'm sure, at least after one year we all will have walk there, on the ground, and in both directions.
Thanks for your patience to read this long story,
--- FD 2.00
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